a guide to music photography by neelam khan vela
The 22-year-old photographer takes us through her archive and tells us about partying with Selena Gomez.
Left: The Ninth Wave's Haydn Park. Right: Hinds' Carlotta Cosials. All photos by Neelam Khan Vela.
This article originally appeared on i-D Spain.
Anyone can take a photo. Anyone with a smartphone in their hand can press a button, retouch an image, and upload it to Instagram in the hopes of attracting a few likes. But despite constant software updates, few have the talent to really capture a moment. To do that you have to have technical knowledge, aesthetic sensitivity, and a unique point of view.
When it comes to music photography, the challenge is even greater, especially for young women. And yet it is within that sphere that 22-year-old photographer Neelam Khan Vela has managed to stand out. We spoke to her about making it in a world that is full of parties but also of long hours and competition.
How did you first become interested in photography?
The truth is that I don’t remember the day I decided I wanted to become a photographer. I have always enjoyed taking pictures. I also started working when I was pretty young and by the age of 14 or 15, I'd already had my photos published. I remember that as a child there were certain photos hanging around my grandparents' house that caught my eye and recently I realized that they look a lot like some of the photos I take now, in terms of the composition and colors. I have unwittingly been replicating a style of photography that has probably been influencing me since I was little.
Why did you decide to focus on music photography?
I’ve always been interested in the world of music. Rather than taking pictures of artists on a stage, I like to think that I am documenting and telling a story. When I started taking photos of bands in Barcelona at the age of 15, it was also a way to get into a scene that I wanted to belong to, because I didn’t share the same interests with kids my age at school. When I moved to London, at the age of 17, I started working at NME and became part of that world. It was there I realized that's what I wanted to dedicate my life to.
Who is your dream sitter?
And what band would you like to go on tour with?
I would love to go on tour with Iceage, The Garden, Amyl and the Sniffers, or Savages because they are bands with an incredible aesthetic and a lot of energy. In general, they are very photogenic bands both on and off stage. I would also love to go on tour sometime with a famous pop artist, because it's completely different from what I've always done and it would be a very interesting experience.
What are the best and worst things about your job?
The best thing is the ability to travel and discover different cities and parts of the world that I would probably never go to if it wasn’t for the job. And, above all, I get to meet lots of amazing people in those places. The worst thing is missing my friends, and having to make more of an effort to take care of myself and eat well.
Do you think there is enough female representation within the music industry?
As with almost all industries, no. Personally, I know a lot of female photographers. I work with many incredible women in the music industry, from tour managers to sound technicians, and from producers to promoters... Things are changing, but when you leave your little bubble and look at the big picture, you realize that there is still a lot of work to be done. This summer I was working in some big festivals and I was one of very few women in the press offices. Most of the other photographers were men.
What is the best concert you’ve ever been to?
There are too many to choose from! My favorites this year were Confidence Man at Primavera Sound and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard in Hebden Bridge, a town in England. To be honest, one of the best concerts of my life was an ABBA tribute group in a tacky disco in Badalona.
Tell us an unforgettable anecdote.
On the last tour I did with Hinds, we ended up at Selena Gomez's house! Through friends of friends she ended up coming to the Santa Ana concert and then invited us to her house. It was really a night that I never imagined I would experience. She’s so nice.
Most of your images show much more than just a stage. How do you know when the right moment to shoot is? Is it as vibrant and fun as it seems to be in your photographs?
I think a band is much more than what you see on stage, and I like to document all that — the whole reality and day-to-day life. I like to capture people as they are, whether they are happy or sad. I don’t like inventing anything. Many of my photos are vibrant and fun because I love portraying happy people, especially when the band members are my friends.
Your work is seen as something genuine in a somewhat hackneyed genre. What do you think an image must have in order to surprise people?
I think that like with any kind of art, you have to convey something. Most concert photography simply portrays a person on stage in a very cold, emotionless way, portraying all the bands in the same way. I like the photos to represent the band and for them to be unique and different from each other.
See more of Neelam's photos below.